With about 17,000 confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus, more than twice the number of infections in the capital, New Delhi, Bombay, which is 18 million people, has become India’s most affected city by the epidemic. With 621 deaths recorded to date, it is feared that the already critical situation may worsen.
“The system is under enormous pressure, it is almost exploding,” says Deepak Bade, the intensive care physician who has volunteered to help at a public hospital.
A shocking video, widely shared on social networks and the Indian media, shows the scale of the crisis facing the big city as billionaires, cricket stars, Bollywood stars and slum dwellers coexist.
In the tape, which was filmed with a cell phone in one of the main public hospitals in Bombay, the bodies of Covid-19 patients were housed in black plastic bags and were left in a hall where other HIV-positive patients were being treated. These photos have caused widespread controversy.
Worried and exhausted, without pay
Because the hospital morgue is full and families fear the recovery of the bodies of their children, or it is impossible to do so if the families themselves are in quarantine, doctors say it is difficult to empty the hospital. But treating patients is more difficult.
With the busy nursing staff at Lukmania Tilak General Hospital known as “Sion” and the large shortage of nurses, Ravi had to change his dying mother’s diapers himself.
Ravi, 26, who asked to use a pseudonym, said hospital staff were “tired and tired”, and sometimes had three patients in one bed for treatment. He added: “They give us medicine and they leave.”
After he himself was infected with the virus, he managed to find a hospital to accept after four other institutions refused him. He said: “We lack the infrastructure to deal with this disease.”
In March, the Sion Hospital, near the slum of Daravi, received one or two suspected cases a day. “It seemed that everything was under control. But then the situation changed completely,” Aditya Puri, the hospital’s trained doctor, told AFP.
At the end of April, he and his colleagues had to deal with the numbers of patients pouring into the hospital. “We used to see 50 to 100 patients a day. 80% of them were positive and many needed oxygen,” said Aditya, whose monthly salary has not been paid since the start of the national quarantine at the end of March.
After many of his colleagues were infected with the virus, he admitted that he was really “afraid” of going to work: “If something happens to me, who will care for me?”
Detection of deficiencies
Doctor Neelima Vaidya Bamari said that the lack of protective equipment means that health care providers may be reluctant to perform tasks that may be as simple as changing the sheets that a Coronas sufferer uses.
There are 4,500 beds in Bombay currently for Covid-19 patients, and the city is working to increase them. A field hospital with 1,000 beds is being built in a commercial area, while intensive care units have been set up in some schools.
Neelima Vaidya-Bamari said the epidemic crisis highlights the chronic problems that the Indian public health system suffers from due to lack of funding, from overworked medical staff under heavy workloads to a lack of essential products such as soaps.
The Indian government allocates less than 2% of its GDP to health spending, which is much lower than in other OECD countries.
In 2017, India had 0.7 doctors per 1,000 people, compared to 1.8 in China and 2.6 in the United States.
“I graduated in 1994 and public hospitals were completely neglected at that time. Why did it take an outbreak to wake people up?” Vaidia-Bamari said.